June 23, 2014

Listen to an NBAA Flight Plan podcast updating Members on the sleep-apnea issue.

At the beginning of 2014, there was much concern in the aviation community and on Capitol Hill regarding the FAA’s controversial proposal to require certain pilots to undergo testing for Obstructive Sleep Apnea before receiving a medical certificate. What’s the status of this issue, and how has NBAA been involved in the matter?

Doug Carr, NBAA’s vice president of regulatory and international affairs, recently provided an update on the Association’s efforts on behalf of pilots who might have faced at least the temporary loss of their medical certification based on the proposed requirement.

Q. What’s been involved in the FAA’s controversial sleep-apnea testing proposal?

A. Several months ago, the federal air surgeon announced his intention to impose sleep- apnea testing and qualifying conditions for that treatment. That led to an industry uproar, and feedback to the FAA, over a significant change in how the agency qualifies pilots for status. While we know that sleep apnea is a disqualifying condition, actually getting tested for it was a significant new burden being placed on the industry.

Q. What were NBAA’s main objections to the proposal?

A. Pilots who were subjected to additional screening would be required to get a sleep-apnea test. At the time, the cost of these tests ranged anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. So, not only was cost a significant new burden for pilots, but the initial intent that the FAA had expressed was that they would not end their testing requirements for people with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 (BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women). They were also suggesting that at some point the body mass trigger could be lowered to 35, perhaps 30 – maybe even lower. At which point, you begin affecting hundreds of thousands of pilots without a clear safety benefit.

That said, perhaps most troubling was that the FAA had planned to roll out a major new requirement on pilots without giving any means for the pilots who would be affected to give the agency feedback on it. For many of the pilots at NBAA Companies, flying an airplane is how they make a living, so we took very seriously the FAA’s seeming lack of concern and transparency on this matter.

Q. NBAA has worked with Congress on this issue – has the Association staff been meeting directly with FAA staff as well?

A. We’ve met with the federal air surgeon, the deputy federal air surgeon and the FAA administrator about this, and it appears that the FAA has heard industry concerns loud and clear.

Q. Where do things stand at this moment? Has a revised proposal been offered for consideration?

A. The FAA is in no rush today to impose these new requirements. They are taking a step back at the moment to review the requirements they are proposing to add to a pilot medical certification. In addition, the FAA is proposing to streamline the special-issuance process for pilots who are diagnosed with sleep apnea.

What can we expect as the next milestone, on this issue?

A. We’ll need to see what the final language looks like before we agree to what the FAA has proposed, but compared to where we started, we are in a significantly better position. The FAA guidance still is going through a lot of review. When the FAA is ready to share it, we’ll make sure that our Members are aware of it and able to participate in the comment process that follows. But as of today, there is no change in existing pilot-certification standards.